Honest Addiction Obituaries Help Remove Stigma

“My brother George P. Gauthier lost his battle with addiction 5/28/15. He was 44 years old. He was so intelligent and creative and funny. He struggled with alcohol from the time he was in his early 20’s…”

So begins an obituary written by Gauthier’s sister. It’s one example of a recent trend to be open in obituaries about addiction as a cause of death. In this shift, chronicled in The New York Times, some families are choosing to shed euphemisms like “died unexpectedly” in favor of the truth. The article notes the trend doesn’t seem to be an organized movement; rather it appears to be an emerging effort to shed the shame that often comes with addiction. Addiction is a Community Disease The addiction struggle is hard enough without the judgment and blame that’s frequently heaped on the addicted person–and often his or her family—by the community. It’s not uncommon for those without a direct connection to substance abuse to say or think: She could stop if she really wanted to… His parents obviously weren’t doing their job… She’s just a bad person–and she deserves all the problems she has now… “We [the community in general] hate addicted people…but we don’t want policies and laws that treat the disease of addiction,” said Amy Sechrist, Certified Prevention Specialist at Compass Mark and member of the Lancaster County Recovery Alliance (LCRA). She added that often the community would rather blame and scorn the addicted person and then complain about addiction-related crimes. Judgment & Blame Don’t Help the Addicted Person, the Family, or the Community Stigma can push an addicted person–and his or her family–into the shadows. For example, imagine a young mom too ashamed to reach out for help for her painkiller addiction. Or perhaps imagine the emotional burden—guilt, shame, fear, and disappointment—experienced by the parent of an addicted teenager. The result? Addicted people—and their loved ones—may not get the professional help and human support that fosters long-term recovery. Awareness & Education Can Reduce Stigma and Its Impact By reducing the stigma that weighs heavily on the addicted and their loved ones, groups like the LCRA hope to make the Lancaster, PA community one that supports lasting recovery in a nurturing way. The LCRA is made up of people in recovery as well as community members with experience in law enforcement, legal professions, corrections, business, faith-based groups, health care, and addiction treatment. Visit the LCRA Facebook Page to learn more about how the LCRA is working to reduce addiction’s stigma and develop more effective recovery options in Lancaster, PA.     Photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver/Flickr.